HCA volumes plunge as Q2 captures full effects of coronavirus

Dive Brief:

  • HCA Healthcare’s volumes plunged more than 20% during the second quarter as the publicly traded hospital operator was battered by the effects of the novel coronavirus, including state and local orders that forced a pause of elective procedures. Both emergency room visits and outpatient surgeries plummeted about 33% while inpatient surgeries declined by 16%.
  • Due to the significantly depressed volumes, total revenue fell more than 12% to $11.1 billion for the quarter compared to the second quarter of 2019.
  • However, net income increased almost 40% to about $1.1 billion for the second quarter compared with the prior-year period. The figure was buoyed by money the company received from the federal government as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, HCA reported Wednesday.

Dive Insight:

Hospitals and healthcare experts previously warned that second quarter operations were likely to experience much more volatility — and the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects — compared to the first quarter of this year. 

That’s exactly what happened as HCA reported steeper volume declines compared to the first quarter of 2020.

Providers started to feel the strain of the pandemic in mid-March, toward the end of the first quarter, as certain regions of the country implemented stay-at-home orders and forced providers to put off elective procedures that systems rely on, particularly as long-term trends change and more care is provided outside of a hospital. 

HCA CEO Sam Hazen called it a “remarkable” 91 days as the company was significantly impacted by the pandemic but also tackled and stepped up to the challenge.

Hazen said he was most proud of the fact that no employees have been laid off or furloughed due to the pandemic.

HCA has a sizeable outpatient footprint — and exposure — with 123 freestanding surgery centers. As such, the hospital operator did report steeper declines in its outpatient surgery unit compared to inpatient surgeries.

For the first quarter, HCA reported income fell almost 45% to $581 million as patient volume declined toward the end of March due to the novel coronavirus.

HCA percentage volume decline (same facility)    
  Q1 2020 Q2 2020
Equivalent admissions -0.4% -20.1%
Admissions 0.6% -12.8%
Inpatient surgery -1.8% -15.7%
Outpatient surgery -5.9% -32.6%
Emergency room  -1% -32.9%

Still, the Nashville-based hospital operator was the only for-profit player to see same-facility admissions increase during the first quarter, all the others posted declines. However same-facility equivalent admissions (combining both inpatient and outpatient activity) declined just 0.4% during the first quarter.

However, Hazen told investors on Wednesday that volumes were starting to improve, particularly in the month of June.

HCA has cared for 33,000 COVID-19 patients, including more than 5,000 currently in-house, he said.

As case counts continue to rise, the American Hospital Association issued a dire warning on Tuesday: half of the country’s hospitals could be operating in the red by the end of this year. The hospital lobby is pleading for more funding as its members continue to weather headwinds brought on by the pandemic. GOP lawmakers are working on the next virus relief package this week in Washington.